Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Simple Chinese Dinner

Although I lived in China for two years, I am always embarrassed to admit that I didn't learn to cook many Chinese dishes while I was there. There were too many delicious and cheap restaurants to make cooking and washing dishes even vaguely appealing. However, I wanted to make sure I had some favorites under my belt, so I arranged for our ai-yi (housekeeper) to show us how to make some classics: eggs with tomatoes and baby bok choy with mushrooms and oyster sauce. These recipes are simple and quick, as well as perfect for the student budget. The only crazy ingredient involved is the oyster sauce, which can be found at Whole Foods or an Asian market. It's also delicious drizzled on steamed broccoli or stir fried bean sprouts with a fried egg on top. In a pinch, you can omit the oyster sauce and season the vegetables with a little soy sauce and sesame oil to taste. My best advice to you is to eat the dishes hot hot hot -- Chinese food just doesn't do well when served cold. The quantities below serve two people. You might also want to make some rice to go along with everything. I recently discovered that Trader Joe's sells brown rice frozen that cooks in 3 minutes in the microwave.

A special thanks to my friend Chrissy for being a wonderful Chef #2 last night!

Egg and Tomato

Staples: salt, pepper, vegetable oil (peanut or canola). Olive oil is OK too in a pinch.
  • 4 eggs, whisked with a fork
I usually opt for 4 egg whites and 2 yolks to tame the cholesterol.
  • 1 t dry vermouth
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 1 c chopped tomato, about 2 plum tomatoes
  • optional: MSG
Whisk vermouth into eggs. Set aside. Heat a large frying pan (or wok, if you have one) over high heat. Add 2 T oil and heat. When oil is hot and shiny, but not smoking, pour in eggs. As soon as eggs begin to set, push them to the side of the pan and pour the tomatoes into the empty space. Sprinkle on sugar and MSG, if using. Give the tomatoes a few stirs and then fold into the eggs, flipping over once or twice to fully cook. If not using MSG, season with salt now. Remove eggs and tomatoes to a bowl and cover with a plate to keep warm.

Baby Bok Choy with Mixed Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce

Staples: vegetable oil (peanut or canola). Olive oil is OK too in a pinch.
  • about 8 baby bok choy, washed well and cut in half or into quarters wedges
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 lb mixed mushrooms, I used a combination of oyster and button
  • 1 1/2 T oyster sauce
Rinse out the pan used above and wipe down with a paper towel. Return to heat and over high heat again add 2 T oil. When oil is hot and shiny, but not smoking, add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add baby bok choy and reduce heat to medium, stirring to incorporate garlic. Cover and cook for about 2 minutes, checking to make sure nothing is burning. Now add the mushrooms and stir a couple of times. Cover again and cook until baby bok choy is tender and the mushrooms have released their moisture. Remove from heat and pour on oyster sauce. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Whoa, that's a mouthful! I first discovered this Middle Eastern breakfast staple at the inimitable Sofra Bakery and Cafe in Watertown, MA. I worship the chef Ana Sortun and this wonderful dish only adds to her allure. The recipe came by way of Libya and consists of tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices in which whole eggs are poached until just cooked. This version is inspired by the recipe I found on Saveur , though I have amended it to more closely resemble the version at Sofra by pureeing the vegetables before poaching the eggs.

I love to eat this for dinner, though obviously it is delicious for any meal of the day. I add a little Sriracha for some heat, but you can also try fresh or pickled jalapenos or a dash of cayenne. If you want to include some more vegetables, add some diced green bell pepper after you have browned the onions. This dish is quite dramatic served in a skillet at the table with some warm pita bread. (TIP: if you freeze fresh pita and then toss it back into the microwave for 30 seconds you can really stretch its longevity.) If you aren't cooking for anyone but yourself, you can also freeze half of the tomato mixture and use it another time.

My mother brings me amazing multicolored eggs from The Berkshires. If you can find a source for local eggs, buy them! Trust me, you can taste the difference.

after Saveur

Staples: olive oil, salt and pepper
Special equipment: a frying pan, skillet, or small pan that can be put in the oven
  • 1 small-medium yellow onion roughly chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and whacked a couple of times to squish
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • fresh local eggs
In a large skillet (cast iron is amazing, if you have one), saute the onions in 3-4 T olive oil over med-high heat until soft. Add the garlic and continue sauteing until fragrant. Add the cumin and paprika and keep stirring for another minute. Add the tomatoes with all their juice. At this point, you can also add your spice of choice if you want some heat. Reduce heat so that the mixture simmers gently until it has thickened (about 15-20 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Scoop everything into a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Return puree to the skillet and over medium heat bring the it back to a simmer. Turn on the oven broiler. Make as many small wells in the bubbling sauce as eggs you plan to use. Make sure to space them so that the eggs do not run together, though it isn't the end of the world if they do. Gently crack eggs into wells. Simmer until eggs begin to set. You will see the whites start to thicken after about 4-5 minutes. Place skillet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes or until desired doneness is reached. Spoon the eggs with sauce into small bowls and serve with warm pita.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hello, World!

Welcome to my latest foodie blog the Student Epicure! I know many of you have been pining for the Sexy Spoon, but I came to the realization that I have outgrown the Spoon and it is prime time to move on. Don't worry, I promise there will still be a salacious post here and there! But the Spoon got a little too personal over time, and I feel it's best to change up the chronicling of my culinary and romantic exploits.

Those of you who are friends with my beyond the interwebs know that I love anything food-related and always relish foodie gossip. Over the years I've noticed that friends tend to divulge their food secrets to me, which often involve either their limited experience in the kitchen or the precious little time they have to cook. Also, for those of us who are mid-twenty somethings still in school or who work hard and earn little in the nonprofit world, finances can crimp our foodie style. The story of a friend who started eating Progresso soup cold from the can was so terrifying that I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.

I am a prennial student, of sorts. Post-college, I studied dance in China, came back to the homeland and returned to school to finish my premed requirements, and next fall I will be starting medical school. I've loved cooking since I was old enough to stand on a stool next to my mother at the kitchen counter learning to make polenta, pasta puttanesca, and chocolate souffle. I've never been one for very fussy recipes and really Julia Child is the only culinary icon who can convince me to peel and de-seed tomatoes. But I love to eat well, especially when I've spent a day buried under lab reports, flash cards, and MCAT prep.

I hope this blog will develop into a collection of recipes that can be cooked in 30-45 minutes on a weekday night with simple ingredients that won't break the bank. Some recipes will be original, others will be ones I have collected as an epicurean student along the way. I plan to post every Monday, fingers crossed. As always, I welcome feedback, questions, and special requests!

Looking forward to cooking together --